Professor Charlotte Searle founded Unisa’s Department of Nursing Science (now the Department of Health Studies) in 1975.

Professor Searle is remembered as "the doyenne of nursing in South Africa" and as an administrator who brought great strength of character to bridging the divide between nursing and the male-dominated world of 20th-century academia. In the 1940s, she also defied the racist attitudes of her day by initiating training and promotion for black nurses. In 1941, she was responsible for sending the first Indian woman to train as a nurse, and in 1947 she promoted the first black nurse to the position of sister in a state hospital. In 1948, due to her efforts, black nurses were allowed to attend university courses for advanced professional education.  Searle was born in the Eastern Cape in 1910. She graduated from Unisa with a BA in Social Science and went on to become Director of Nursing in the Transvaal Provincial Administration. In 1955, she approached the University of Pretoria (UP) to introduce a degree course for nursing training. This was an ongoing success, and in 1967, UP appointed Searle as South Africa's first Professor of Nursing. She returned to Unisa in the 1970s to found the Department of Nursing Science.